The Untapped Potential of Stem Cells
Oct 22, 2021 Sarah Spivack LaRosa
It's been 40 years since the first embryonic stem cells were cultivated from mice. Decades later, the applications of regenerative medicine are blossoming.
At the center of the excitement is the discovery that adult cells from patients at any age can be taken "back in time" to create a stem cell that is pluripotent—able to generate any cell of the human body. These are called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs.
Each cell made this way carries the DNA of the donor. So iPSCs are ideal for creating and testing potential treatments that can be exactly tailored to the individual.
"It's like having an avatar of a patient in a dish," says Clive Svendsen, PhD, executive director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute (RMI).
At Cedars-Sinai, scientists are investigating the use of stem cells for joint pain, blindness, neurological disorders and to predict the development of cancer. From the lab to the International Space Station, the future of stem cell technology has never been brighter.
Novel orthopaedic therapies such as injections of stem cells and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) are growing in popularity. But surgeons do not always agree on the use or effectiveness of the treatments. Now a center, comprising surgeons and investigators at Cedars-Sinai, is studying which therapies are beneficial and how they work.
Is the future of personalized medicine out of this world? Cedars-Sinai is trying to find out by launching special stem cells into space to see if they multiply better there. The RMI is partnering with Space Tango of Lexington, Kentucky, to send iPSCs to the International Space Station.
Investigators are exploring stem cell therapy to treat myriad diseases. Two major areas of focus at Cedars-Sinai are a form of blindness and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease. Both courses of study are supported by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state-funded stem cell research institute. Collectively, the two promising projects have been awarded more than $20 million.
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A powerful treatment for certain blood cancers is CAR T-cell therapy. During this treatment, some of a patient's immune cells (T cells) are taken out and reprogrammed to fight their cancer. A chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) is added to the T cells, which helps them recognize and attack the patient's particular disease.